How neighbourly are schools?

As I write this, India is on the verge of entering the finals of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup. Diwali has just gone by and we are all still recovering from the noise and air pollution from the fireworks, and my main concern related to the win is whether it’s all going to start again (and again, depending on what happens in the finals).

Of course, by the time you read this it will all be very old news, and we will have settled into the last month of the year, preparing ourselves to think up new resolutions and clear our minds of the old ones we are trying hard to not feel guilty about! We will perhaps have also forgotten about the other cause for air pollution in our capital – stubble burning – and come to new problems closer to home, depending on where we live.

This issue of Teacher Plus was sparked by a conversation that happened, as it so often does, in the middle of a traffic jam caused by a snarl of cars, autorickshaws, mini-buses, and two-wheelers, all nudging each other to the familiarly rude noises of horns, brakes, and people’s frustration. All this at the end of a narrow lane which led out of – you guessed it – a school! It got us thinking about what it means for a school to be plonked in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, where people chose homes expecting quiet and easy mobility in and out of their gates, thinking the only people they would have to exchange words with (in the politest way possible) would be the folks next door, the dhoodh-wala, and the occasional street hawker.

But traffic woes are perhaps a modern urban reality, and schools are not the only cause of this vehicular mess. So then, what happens to spaces where schools are located? And what happens to schools based on the spaces where they are located? Does the school see itself as a civic and social actor? How do children interact with their surroundings – if at all they do?

We live in increasingly atomized formations that bear little resemblance to the neighbourhoods of older times, and in cities at least, there is not much appetite for neighbourliness of the kind that we read about in storybooks or hear about from our grandparents. Yet we live in closer physical proximity with many different kinds of institutions and people, even though we barely know them. So for this issue, we wanted to step out of the classroom, and even the school, to think about what it means for a school to think about the larger ecosystem it is a part of. We hope, as always, the contributions make you think a little more deeply, a little differently, about how we make a home (as a school) in the world.

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